--"The Time of Times", Badly Drawn Boy
There's a scene in Definitely, Maybe
where Will admits to April that he's been keeping her father's copy of Jane Eyre
from her. It isn't just any 'ole copy of Jane Eyre
, mind you, but the copy he gave to her a couple of weeks before he died. It's also the copy that she searches for every time she walks into a used book store and has been for the last fifteen years. When Will admits to April that he'd been keeping it for the last eight years for what he terms "no good reason" the look on her face speaks volumes. Not only does she feel betrayed because the book is something important, she also feels betrayed that it was her good friend--even somebody she might or might not love who has committed this act of betrayal. She asks him to leave her office to end the scene.
To me it almost doesn't matter that he explains at the film's finale that the reason he kept the book, her precious treasure, was it was the last thing he had left of April. I still find it hard to swallow that anybody could be that selfish in the face of something that was obviously tremendously important to her.
That being said, I suppose I could be convicted of something eerily similar to that situation a time or two in my past.
The only reasons I can give is the same reasons I use an excuse for most of the slightly off behavior I tend to engage in. I did it because, much like Will, I'd rather remember somebody for the right reasons and have that somebody remember me for the wrong reasons instead of forgetting somebody entirely because I did the "right" thing. I lose too many people to bad behavior at any rate. Sometimes having a memento eases the transition.
Even at twelve she was pretty. I'm not talking about the regular kind of pretty that other twelve-year-olds notice. I'm talking the unnatural pretty that particularly awkward seventeen-year-old houseguests talk about. With her chestnut brown hair, oceanic blue-green eyes, dimpled cheeks--it didn't take me long to see that she always had whatever it has she has. Even when surrounded by what amounted to a small army of people, relatives and friends, I could always pick her out of the crowd. Even when on the video she was dressed up in some ridiculously fancy wheat yellow dress or maybe even gown she still looked natural. She still looked graceful. She still looked resplendent.
We were all sitting on her parents couch on my third-to-last night of my Christmas trip to her house. I don't know if it's a ritual in every household, but it seems every time I've gone over to an ex-girlfriend's or potential ex-girlfriend's house for any extended period of time, her parents have always whipped out some kind of video evidence of their child's more innocent and halcyon days. It happened with Tara (karate gi and corny dialogue in some history project for school), with Jina (terribly detailed tour of her house for my benefit), with DeAnn (swimming party replete with New Kids On The Block t-shirts and posters afterwards), and, yes, even with Breanne. I have to admit, though, that day was the first and only time where the victim wasn't overcome with embarrassment or shame. It could have been that she's always been naturally cool under pressure, but I think the real reason stemmed from the fact she'd already planned the viewing beforehand with her mother. Naturally, she played the innocent fawn when I brought up this very idea during the viewing. Her protestations that she was as surprised as I was by her mother's choice of fare fell on deaf ears, though. I don't know--she's always had a way of playing off accusations without actually playing them off convincingly.
Even sitting next to her, she played it cool. She hid her face in her hands at all the appropriate moments, laughed at all the same incidents her parents and I laughed at, and even got up once or twice to ostensibly shut off the video.
"He doesn't need to see my silly birthday party, mother. He doesn't care about that kind of thing," she tried to say.
But I did care. Oh, it wasn't for the reasons she or her mother thought. I didn't care to compare and contrast how much better she looked two years later. I didn't much notice how their house looked from then till when I was there. And it also didn't much matter to me that all her male classmates were so flirtatious with her. It didn't make me jealous at all at the time--well, not any more jealous than I naturally am. Nope, what impressed me was the idea that it was a digital record of how she was in 1992, almost a full eighteen months before I even knew the name Breanne Holins existed. This was a diary of who she was before she met me. That, in and of itself, was captivating. I mean--she'd tried to describe who she was and what she was like in her years prior to getting to know me. Yet the words she used always fell back to the same refrains. "I was the same," "I haven't changed all that much, sugar," and "I've always been little 'ole me." Well, little 'ole her was definitely not the same as medium 'ole her.
For one thing, little 'ole her seemed much more under her mother's command. The way her mother hovered over her, reminding her to tidy away the gift wrap on her presents or to express her gratitude nanoseconds after she had discovered what her gifts were and who they were from, or to get up and dance with her uncle was illuminating. She really wasn't kidding when she said that her mom had even more of a micro-management style back then.
More importantly, the video showed another side to her that I didn't know existed. It showed a side to my best friend that was rather refreshing. There in colors all the world could see was her spark shining through what must have been a difficult situation. Not only did the party have the mood of a well-choreographed wake, but even her classmate friends seemed to be sniping in with complaint after complaint to her or her family. Yet through it all, she handled it with remarkable aplomb. She didn't get upset. She didn't chime in with her own complaints to her mother. She sat there and took it. Well, she didn't exactly take it meekly. Her solution was to merely try extra hard to be pleasant. I've seen her throw on the charm before on a much more hostile crowd of strangers when we've been out in public, but heretofore I had never seen her act so cordially with a group of people she had leave with to get visually and verbally cross with. If it were my own family and I had been unhappy with my party, I would have complained to my heart's content. Not her, though. She smiled, laughed like a hurricane, and for the most part continued through the party like nothing were amiss.
I think after about forty minutes of watching scene after scene showing the same resolve is when I decided I had to have this tape. More precisely, it was then that I made the fateful decision that when I left for California three days later that particular tape would be coming with me.
Of course, I wouldn't ask for it. That would have been too embarrassing for me to do. Even I knew back then there was no truly good reason to ask for a copy of the tape. What possible use was there for watching repeatedly the same three hours of a twelve-year-old's birthday party? What good could come of it? It wasn't like I could explain to them that I needed it to remind myself of what made her special. It wasn't like I could capture in words how what I saw differed from what they say. Of anyone, she would have understood the most why I had to take it, but even asking her ran the risk of my request being denied for whatever reason. Nope, I needed the tape for my own edification and that entailed absconding with it on the down low.
That sounds bad. Stealing's bad. But to me it wasn't like I was stealing something, to me it felt Iike I was gathering another piece of her, another slice of the cake, to better experience who and what she was inside. There's only so much dialogue can tell you; sometimes you need to see a person as they are when they're not around you to see more fully how they are. Most people don't need to keep such visuals filed away. I just happen to be somebody who is a completist. That, coupled with my impulsiveness and rather shocking lack of judgment convinced me what I planned to do was alright.
I planned to steal the tape that night.
All in all, it was easier than I thought it was going to be. In truth, I probably made it more difficult than it needed to be. I waited till three in the morning to sneak down the grand staircase when it probably would have been safe to sneak down at one. Everyone was asleep by then, including her who I had personally checked in on from the doorway of the bathroom to that connected the guest room where I was staying to her bedroom. I took the steps of the stairs at about a step every two minutes, scared to death that every creak and moan of the landings would give away my position or, worse yet, my nefarious plot. I got into the videotape display at a snail's pace, opening the door as if I was opening the gates of heaven itself. Then, once I got into the section the held all the family functions I didn't even bother picking up the nearby flashlight because I was scared to death that a neighbor might see the light and question them the next morning. Yes, I was paranoid. Paranoia typically is the first sign of a guilty conscience, don't you know? Even when I had the tape in my hands and was even more slowly making my way back up the stairs, the entire time I was trying to come up with a conceivable reason why I had the tape with me in case I got caught. "Oh, it's one of mine from home that I wanted Breanne to see tomorrow morning," and "Breanne told me to hide the tape so you two could never show it to anyone again" were the best reasons I could devise for her parents. "I know how much it bothered you so I thought I'd play a practical joke and have you wake up to it in your face," was the best excuse I could come up for her.
In actuality, she probably would have been fine with it. She probably would have laughed at the reason, but once I explained it to her in terms that would play on her minor chord heartstrings, she probably would have acquiesced. I don't know why I felt the need to hide my secret shame from her.... or maybe it was just that I didn't want to appear needy. I just thought any reason I could give would be flimsy.
I passed by her bedroom and pressed my ear to the door. She still sounded asleep. I began whispering her name through the door, loud enough that she would be able to hear me if she were awake but not loud enough to actually wake her up if she wasn't already awake. After twenty or thirty seconds I all but tripped into the guest bedroom, so quickly did I want to separate my hands from the damning evidence I now possessed.
I packed that tape away in the deep recesses of my bag, careful to insure that nobody casually searching through would ever have the opportunity to feel it through the folds and contours of my underwear (yes, in my underwear) much less see it from a casual glance. I had read earlier that year that a dab of peanut butter masks the scent of drugs and that certain criminal enterprises employed the tactic when smuggling contraband. I can tell you that if I had easier access to the Holins' pantry there would have been peanut butter smeared all over my prize in as sufficient a quantity that would ease my unease yet still allow for the tape to be played.
The whole family, bless their hearts, never suspected a thing. I left on that trip with no one the wiser.
But every time I watched it over the next two years before I told her I had it, I half-expected to receive a phone call asking for the tape's return. This isn't to say I watched it with an overwhelming sense of guilt. That faded about a month after I came home. No, the half-expectation originated from the idea that she was so real and so lifelike at her birthday party that there were times where I felt I was right there. More precisely, I got so caught up in every detail (after playing it more than fifty times) that in those instances where she faced the camera and she was being prompted to describe her excitement or her glee, I honestly felt she was talking to me. I honestly felt I could reply to her in kind. I honestly felt that any second now she was going to ask why I took the tape.
That question would not be answered until, as aforementioned, two years late.
I forget the exact circumstances, but out-of-left-field while we were discussing something completely unrelated Lucy asked me if I was ever going to return the videocassette I took.
"You knew about that?"
"About a week after you were here. My daddy noticed the tape was missing then and it didn't take much for us to piece together who the culprit was."
"And you never said anything? You weren't mad?"
"No. Should I have been?"
That's when I had to explain why I did it. That's when I had to endure the ridicule of going through when and what I was doing while I was watching the tape. That's when I came closest to understanding Will's plight in the film.
I told her that "sometimes when two people know each other half as well as we do it's natural to think that there's so much more I could know. It's hard to imagine that I've solved the Breanne puzzle. Sometimes, I worry that there's whole other side of you that you might be hiding. I get nervous that you're going to spring it on me someday when I least expect it.
"At any rate, that was the original reason I took it, B."
"Now I just watch it when I especially miss you and talking to you on the phone just isn't enough. Sometimes seeing your face in motion, whatever age you are, is more than enough to cheer me up. It's like pictures and phone calls are only slices of your life and what I see on the video is the whole pizza. I can't explain it."
"That's a sufficient enough reason. Hell's bells, though, Eeyore, if you wanted the tape so badly you could have just asked..."
No, I'm not advocating theft of any size or shape to get to know a person. Nor am I endorsing a course of stalking to better acquaint yourself with the individuals in your life.
However, in certain instances, there's something to be said about being curious about a person you care about's life. There's something intrinsically human about the desire to know another human being inside-and-out whatever the stakes. We're all born alone. We all spend the vast majority of our time on our own. We all feel loneliness and solitude to varying degrees at one time or another. When a connection, any connection, is made it's natural to want to explore it to the depth and breadth that a single person can explore. In fact, I would go so far to say that people who stop getting to know other people at the surface level have never really had a true loved one in their life just yet. It takes digging, it takes wanting to know, it takes pushing past the boundaries of taking only what a person is willing to give to find out who this other person is. It takes blowing right by the perception they wish to portray to you and getting at the reality of who they are, the content of their character and not just the fancy cover, that makes any friendship or relationship.
And, yes, sometimes it means holding onto something that belongs to them, that is infused with their personality and history.
It's not good enough to merely win a person's heart slowly over time.
Sometimes you just have to steal it out from under them. LOL
Labels: Badly Drawn Boy, boundaries, Breanne, Memories, Stealing